Boys to Men (Salvific Masculinity in /Angels with Dirty Faces/)
"Boys to Men" examines the redemptive force of street Catholicism–the salvific masculinity of Irish American violence, courage, and love–as enacted in the interplay between the social-work priest (Pat O’Brien) and his boyhood buddy (James Cagney) turned notorious and charismatic gangster, in Michael Curtiz’s _Angels with Dirty Faces_ (1938). The priest (representing the official face of Catholicism) and the gangster (its unofficial practice) reunite in the old neighborhood to compete for the loyalty and future of a teenage gang, played by the Dead End Kids. As I see it, _Angels with Dirty Faces_ is a gorgeously filmed and strongly acted genre flick that successfully flirts with the censors but remains mainly that–a late Depression-era gangster flick–until its brilliant, shocking ending, which renders the dark pageant of state electrocution only to transfigure it–via the erotics of violent witness and male camaraderie–into a street version of Christian sacrifice.
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